Debate Team Sweeps Girls Tourney


Claire Mueller, Staff Writer

The girls of the Campolindo debate team won the first annual Girl’s Invitational at Notre Dame High School on December 4.  The single gender competition was unusual for high school debate, which traditionally includes male and female participants.

For aspiring female litigators like Roni Ayalon, the event was a welcome change to what can often be a particular challenging environment for her gender.

“It was all girls, so it was very different from what we normally experience at the tournament. It was designed specifically for the purpose of giving girls a different experience at tournaments because there are lots of sexism in debate,” said Ayalon. “It was really fun, because it was a more comfortable environment. Tournaments are usually very stressful, and a ton of pressure, but since it was all girls, including the judges and coaches, I felt more included.”

Sophomore Sharon Yuan was also pleased with the unique format of the Notre Dame event. “I thought it was a really heartfelt attempt by the debate community to combat the sexism that does exist within the activity itself, since it’s the 1st of its kind. Since debate is pretty male-dominated, and a lot of champions and participants are guys, I think it was a great opportunity to increase the dialogue and discussion around the role of women in debate and in the world in general,” said Yuan. “We wanted to shape our world and community to accept and invite more women in debate.”

While Yuan said she’s been lucky not to have suffered from gender bias in her own debate experience, she has witnessed it impact her peers. “We had a forum at the tournament that did involve a lot of girls going up and speaking about how they got their speaking points and things like that docked because the judges thought they were wearing the wrong clothes, or their skirt was too short,” said Yuan. “And there have been comments from judges saying things like ‘Your voice is too shrill,’ and gendered criticisms like that.”

Ayalon pointed out the culture within the Campolindo debate club is different from what they face when they interact with people at competitions. “I don’t think it necessarily happens at Campolindo, because I feel that Campolindo is an inclusive club, but definitely at tournaments outside of our school. Some judges are definitely more biased towards guys and do rank them higher than their girl partners. I have a guy partner at normal tournaments and although it doesn’t happen to me particularly, I know a lot of girls who in girl-guy partnerships notice that the guy always gets like higher points or a ton of praise, while the girl gets belittling commentary about how she should be wearing something different, or she shouldn’t have been so aggressive, even if the girl and the guy were acting the same way,” Ayalon explained.

For this tournament, Ayalon was partnered up with freshmen Penny Hopkin. “I’ve never worked with her before, but she was very fun to work with, even though we’re at different skill levels. It was kind of challenging, but in the end we overcame that difference, and we won the Novice division. We got framed certificates, and everyone was really happy about it. The tournament was more about reputation, not for points, and it’s nice that we won,” Ayalon said.

Avalon and her teammate’s achievement was well received by her club peers, as well as her coach. “I had never won a tournament before, so this was my first win. I was really happy, and my coach was in the room during my final round along with a couple other people, and she was really happy and we celebrated outside after. We have a group chat for the team, and afterwards everyone was texting on it about how Campolindo is so great and things like that,” she said.

While the squad was confident going into the competition, taking top honors in all divisions was not the goal. “The main focus wasn’t on winning, but it was a nice side effect. I wasn’t really sure how to react. When we went to the tournament, we didn’t go there just to win, we went to have a new experience and to mostly to convince the Novice girls to continue doing debate,” said Yuan.

Yuan added, “It was a great opportunity to have [girls] feel accepted and involved in the communities that they’ll continue debating.”